The following is part four in a series about Engaging Young Adults in Ministry. At the 2014 Susquehanna Annual Conference, we began a dialogue about the absence of young adults in the church and about how we can re-establish our relationships and ministry with them. This series is an edited transcript of that dialogue. The video of this presentation, and the full transcript, can be found at tinyurl.com/susumcAC2014.
Rev. Jake Waybright
Originally I wasn’t supposed to be in one of these chairs. I am not a millennial — I have aged out of the young adult category — but as we started to solicit young adults and millennials who could respond to some of these disconnections that David Kinnaman talks about in his book, You Lost Me ... Why Young People are Leaving the Church ... and Rethinking Faith, we had a young adult who really wanted to be able to talk to two of those disconnections. He wanted to talk about the idea that oftentimes young adults perceive the church as repressive when it comes to sexuality, and exclusive when it comes to others who maybe don’t share their beliefs or who are of different sexual orientations – one of the things that Kinnaman talks about.
The truth is that we struggled through five or six revisions of what he might be able to say, that might be able to be heard in our conference, and what might be helpful, and what would not jeopardize his relationships within the Annual Conference. In the end we came to the realization that we couldn’t quite get to that place.
The fact that I am here talking is actually a demonstration of this disconnection that Kinnaman talks about.
These issues are so hot for us right now that we don’t even know how to talk about them among ourselves. Because of that, young adults who want to be able to engage in conversation about this — who might come from a different perspective — struggle to find places where they can engage faithfully and honestly.
I want to share with you not so much from a personal perspective, but from the perspective of what I understand, and have heard, and know from young adults and millennials in this area. This isn’t about the issues of sexuality that we’re dealing with in the global church — this is about who young adults are, and what it means to engage them faithfully in conversation.
If we’re going to faithfully engage young adults in conversation, and invite them to faith in Christ, one of the things that’s really important to understand about them is that for many of them, they just come at these issues from a different place than previous generations do. The generational shift happened so fast that many of us are left at a loss to even know how to talk about it.
A survey from the Pew Research Center came out in February and it was talking about generational differences around same-sex marriage (among other things.) It was really interesting to see how wide of a gap there is. When you looked at folks who were over 68, the statistics in the general population were about 35 percent of folks approved a same-sex marriage. But when you looked at the millennial generation it was about 70 percent — that’s a huge gap. When they asked young adult millennials why they had disengaged from their faith and faith communities, 30 percent of young adults said that one of the primary reasons was seeing the way that their friends had been treated within the church, and excluded from the church.
This is a difficult reality. That I’m the one talking here, and not a young adult, speaks to how difficult this is to talk about. We are not here to debate that issue, or to say that you need to believe differently. In order to engage in ministry with young adults in authentic relationship, this is a reality that we have to understand.
This relational generation that values community over rightness is hungering for, and longing for, looking for community in diversity. Young adults are watching the way we treat others, and they ache when they feel we are hurting those people whom they love.
They are looking for places of deep conversation. This generation that is very comfortable talking about sexuality feels like there is a closed door about that conversation when they come into the church. It isn’t to say that you have to change or rethink what you think, but we need to find ways to be in authentic conversation across our differences. If we can’t, there’s a large part of this generation for which the conversation will never begin.
The person who wanted to tell you this ended with this:
“As I ruminated on Kinnaman and his understandings, I wondered if part of the disconnection with us as young adults is because honest conversations about sexuality, and about our experiences of that, and perception of that, and the way the church deals with that, are never often even brought up.
We struggle to find a place that we can have true dialogue about these things, and it seems the church has some barriers to starting conversations that young adults are already in.
It’s our joint responsibility to learn how to have conversations that bridge this gap so that we can move faithfully ahead, together.”